Why Betsy DeVos must be confirmed
Betsy DeVos has been surrounded by controversy since Donald Trump nominated her to be the next secretary of education. As chair of the American Federation for Children, she has become an advocate for returning education to the states and local communities. She believes in working in a bipartisan manner to help empower parents make the right choices for their children. In doing this, she has supported charter schools, school vouchers, and tuition tax credits.
So why is her nomination mired in controversy? Partly it is of her own doing. She did not do her homework by allowing the Democrats at the conference hearing to hijack the issues. She seemed unaware of the longstanding policies and functions of the department she is in line to lead, confusing growth and proficiency, questioning the need for federal taxpayer dollars to help with special need students, and not having a basic knowledge of public school education. In fact, Ana Navarro, a longtime Republican strategist, tweeted, "Ppl I respect, think highly of Betsy Devos. But clips of her confirmation hearing made me want to cover my eyes. Not prepared for hard q's."
Yet DeVos is correct with her biggest focus: that not all schools are working for the students assigned to them. Senator Tim Scott (R-S.C.) explained in an op-ed, "When a neighborhood school is failing its students, for many the first response is to suggest that more funding is needed. While it might be the case that increased funding helps in certain situations, the fact remains that too many students are not getting access to the education they deserve[.] ... Being pro-school choice does not mean you want to tear down public schools; in fact the goal is the opposite. We believe that by introducing competition, we can make every school perform better." American Thinker interviewed others in education who also support Ms. DeVos.
A former school counselor complained that in New York, it is very hard to get your child into a highly rated public middle school: "if your children's attendance is not almost perfect, if they have more than three absences, these schools will not take the child. I guess the alternative is to send your child to public school sick."
She is frustrated because the alternative, private school, is not an option for many families because of their financial means. A sympathetic ear is Kevin Chavous, a former Washington, D.C. councilman, who has worked with Betsy DeVos as the executive director of the American Federation for Children. He told American Thinker that his high regard for her is based on their common belief that "currently, students are trapped in schools that do not serve them well, and parents feel like they are standing in quicksand, helpless and hopeless. They need an alternative."
He is dismayed at the Democrats' criticism of the nominee. "Frankly, the only people who are against school choice are the ones who have a choice. People who argue you need to send your children to this school or that one are the very people who will not be caught dead sending their children there. This is the height of hypocrisy. It is just not right."
David Kim is the founder of C2 Education, one of the nation's leading Test Prep, Tutoring, and College Counseling Organizations. He took away from the nomination hearings that "we are in a state of political correctness, so we are afraid to engage in discourse. This applies to the state of education, where we do not want to discuss the different options. People speak of income inequality, but the inequality in education is even more dramatic. I hope the new secretary of education can change things. We must think of newer ways to address the students' needs. The needs of low-income students are different in their day-to-day living conditions than middle- and upper-class students."
American Thinker asked these two education specialists what one of the most important changes is that they would like to see. Kim says society should address the need for children to want to learn again. "We need to change the entire mindset of society. Go back to the Jeffersonian idea to learn for the sake of learning. I know that is pretty idealistic, but the reality is, those are not the values espoused today. The true exercise of learning and the true curiosity is not flourishing. People are graduating without a basic knowledge of math and reading."
Kevin agrees and believes that "our state of mind has changed. We do not value education and learning the way we used to. To get back to a learning culture, we need more quality options. Our education system is a picture of stagnation. There are thousands of dropout factories, where students walk into a school and then just drop out. Even though we are graduating more people than ever, they do not have the skills to get a job or go to college."
He went on to say that education should not be separated into K-12 and then college, but rather viewed as a continuum. "The way to do this is by having the colleges work closely with the high schools. Allow high school students to take college courses. We also have to consider that not all children will go to college, but we need to show those students the importance of education, to make it relevant. We need to grow vocational learning. For example, you cannot be an auto mechanic if you do not have computer technical skills that will assess and diagnose problems. We should be helping those children who have an interest in the trades, with a subject like math being built into a trade curriculum."
Everyone interviewed believes that Betsy DeVos should be confirmed. They are optimistic that she will work to depoliticize the educational process and will embrace innovation and creativity. She will shake up the system to put students first.
The author writes for American Thinker. She has done book reviews and author interviews and has written a number of national security, political, and foreign policy articles.